I was at a homeschool co-op meeting the other day, and chatting with a mom who was there trying to figure out what to do with her 2.5 year old. Here's the thing though, you don't have to "do" anything with a 2.5 year old.
After spending several years teaching 0-3 year olds basic introduction to water/swimming skills, the one thing I can truly say to parents is that it doesn't matter how much they learn "in class" because if it's not reinforced at home they will forget within a time span of 3-6 months.
Why do they forget so easily? Isn't this "preschool" time one of the most rapid times of brain growth development and we all need to send our kids to fancy "academies" so they don't get left behind?
Yes, and no. The reason this is the time of most rapid brain growth is because of what they are learning. They aren't learning to read or perform addition and subtraction (and if they are you are probably wasting their brain cells). They are learning to talk, and walk, run and jump. They are learning to interact with the world around them. They are forming their most basic personality traits. I would argue that any preschool program (or even mommy and me program) is actually a detriment to children unless it addresses an otherwise deficient area among one of the following categories:
- Access to new and stimulating environments. For a 1 year old, this might just be a blanket on the grass. A 3-5 year old can visit the kids museum, zoo, park, library, bookstore, toy store, grocery store (you get the idea).
- Access to new and stimulating people. For a 1 or 2 year old, consider just visiting one or two close friend or neighbors, or going to the park and letting them "play beside other kids". For a 3-5 year old (depending on personality) all ages should work. Visit a nursing home, attend story time or a playgroup, let him loose at a park (within reason).
- Access to new and stimulating ideas. Talk about the bugs you see outside, talk about the vehicles you drive past in the car, talk about the number of objects and people around you. Read new stories and answer all the "why" questions you can handle. I find my limit is usually about a couple dozen per day, but my son will ask infinitely more. The "Why stage" is not just a phase or a stage, but an integral way of learning that we so often discourage from children due to our own lack of attention span or "formal education".
- Access to new and stimulating activity. You don't need a baby yoga class, but find out what is age appropriate for your child, and then challenge him by going one level above to see what he can do. Play Simon Says, or build an obstacle course out of pillows. Find toys that encourage her to bend, move, and twist. Work on those fine motor skills with toys that encourage them to focus (or just have them practice picking up different colored small objects such as fruit loops or M&Ms). Encourage lacing, drawing, rolling trucks or trains with small wheels around a track.
Now, I did send my son to preschool, mainly because I needed a break. However, I specifically chose a 2 day a week preschool that included music and outside time (or gym) every day. It was still more of a mommy break than a "learning time" and I am totally okay with some "wasted" time in my child's life if it keeps us both from going crazy.
So, why did I say that Kindergarten is preschool? It was the original preschool! No one used to go to school before age 6 or 7. They were at home, learning through gardening and sewing and cooking. In my state, I'm not allowed to register my homeschool until my oldest child turns 7. Kindergarten should not be a place where children ever take "tests". They should never have anything "wrong" or be told what or when or how to play with something. That's not to say that I won't be "encouraging" my child to work at his curriculum next year, but I certainly won't be grading anything. He told me the other day, that he would be sad if I died, because I wouldn't be around to teach him. Parents and caregivers are their children's original teachers, and no one can replace that.
When I teach 0-3 year olds "swimming" I make sure to tell the parents during the first class, that they are their child's instructor. If their child doesn't like something, they as the parent can do something different. If they feel that their child needs to be pushed (gently) in an area, I encourage them to continue working on that skill. I put in place some suggestions to maintain safety, but if I have one parent that chooses to dunk their child (despite my discouragement) and one that plays fetch with a float belt the whole class, I consider both of those a success. Rather than relying on an "instructor" to teach their child to swim, I'm giving them the tools and basics needed to encourage a lifelong love for swimming. And if they mess up their child too badly, it's on them, not me (I'll mess up my own children in my own ways).